Uncasville, CT (SportsNetwork.com) - The defending national champion Louisville Cardinals hit the road for the first time this season, as they take on the Fairfield Stags at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, as part of the Hall of Fame Tip Off on Saturday.
This marks the first-ever meeting between these two programs on the hardwood. The winner of this matchup will take on either North Carolina or Richmond in Sunday's championship game.
Rick Pitino's Cardinals are ranked third in the nation and have certainly looked the part of a national title contender once again, with four straight lopsided victories over College of Charleston (70-48), Hofstra (97-69), Cornell (99-54) and most recently, Hartford (87-48). The Hofstra and Hartford games were part of regional action in this event. The win over the Hawks marked Louisville's 20th straight dating back to last season, the longest current win streak in the nation and a school record.
The Stags will attempt to end Louisville's most successful run ever, but Sydney Johnson's squad hasn't shown much in the early stages of the season. Fairfield opened the year with a win over Sacred Heart (67-54), but has lost three straight since with setbacks to Hartford (63-53), Loyola Maryland (59-520 and most recently Holy Cross (63-49).
There are a few missing pieces gone from last year's championship team, but Louisville hasn't missed a beat, thanks to dominant play at both ends of the floor. In addition, the team leads the nation in fewest turnovers (6.0 per game) and ranks seventh in steals (12.5 per game). The team is enjoying a gaudy +33.5 scoring margin, averaging 88.2 ppg, while allowing just 54.8. All- American candidate Russ Smith has been superb in the early going, leading the team in scoring (18.8 ppg), while tied for the team-lead in assists (4.3 apg). Montrezl Harrell (14.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg) has been a beast up front, converting an impressive 69.7 percent from the floor. Chris Jones (13.0 ppg, 4.3 apg) and Wayne Blackshear (11.3 ppg) round out the double-digit threats, but Chane Behanan (9.3 ppg) and last year's Final Four MVP Luke Hancock (9.3 ppg) are certainly talented enough to join the party at any time.
In the blowout win over Hartford, Harrell led the charge with a near double- double of 20 points and nine rebounds. Smith added 14 points in 25 minutes of work, while Jones finished with 11. Louisville forced the overmatched Hawks into 25 turnovers and committed just seven itself in the 39-point romp.
The Stags have rebounded well on the season and boast a +10.0 rebounding margin after four games, but they have been careless with the ball and are saddled with a -8.0 turnover margin. Sophomore forward Marcus Gilbert is shooting under 40 percent from the floor, but is the only Stag currently averaging double figures at 11.8 ppg. The scoring pool dries up fast after that on a team that is netting just 55.2 ppg. K.J. Rose and Doug Chappell add 7.5 ppg each as the next most effective scoring options on the roster.
In the loss to Holy Cross, Fairfield committed 12 turnovers, shot a miserable .333 from the floor and finished with a season-low 49 points. Gilbert had more points in the game than the rest of the roster combined, finishing with a career-high 26 points, thanks to a 6-of-14 effort from 3-point range. Center Amadou Sidibe only had six points in the loss, but did grab a career-high 16 rebounds.